Award-winning digital theatre-makers Creation Theatre presents a surreal and anarchic adaptation of The Wizard of Oz.
It’s not often that your first acting gig straight out of drama school throws you into the deep end of technology, green screens, using Zoom, and the world of social media to interact with both your audience and your castmates; but that is exactly what Chloe Lemonius will be doing when she takes on the role of Dorothy in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz this Christmas.
Usually staged at the North Wall Arts Centre, this production by Creation Theatre audiences will instead be watching around the world. With their reimagining of L. Frank Baum’s classic tale, audiences will be invited to escape reality and journey together to the magical Emerald land; where, along with the Scarecrow, Lion, Tin Man, and many more dreamlike characters, they will work together to get Dorothy back home.
We spoke to Chloe about her role.
Please introduce yourself …
Hi, I’m Chloe Lemonius. I’m an actor and writer. I’m a Londoner born and bred in Newham and of Jamaican heritage. I graduated from the Oxford School of Drama this year and landed my first production!
Please share a word or sentence that best describes your life right now?
Unpredictable. Very unpredictable.
We all know and love The Wizard of Oz and there have been quite a few retellings on screen and on stage. My all-time favorite is The Wiz starring Michael Jackson as the Scarecrow and Diana Ross as Dorothy. What can audiences expect from this version?
The fact that this is going to be performed in ‘real-time’ online, using technology and the screen as part of our storytelling is going to be the biggest factor in bringing this version bang up to date. These days, everyone has access to social media and the online world, and Gari Jones, the director, has quite cleverly integrated that aspect into the writing and made this classic tale feel more current and relevant to a whole new generation who might not even know the story. It’s a really fun and magical re-telling but it also makes audiences think about aspects of our reality that the classic might have missed.
How will you make your version of Dorothy a fan favorite?
Well, this Dorothy has attitude! She’s not the archetypal ‘sweet girl‘. She’ll have endearing qualities, but she is going to be much more real and tangible even though we are in this imaginary world of Oz that is going to be crazy and surreal. She’s a teenager who has lost hope in the world and everything around her.
Before I landed the role, I had an idea to write a TV series about a modern Dorothy. This was not long after George Floyd had been murdered, and I guess I was feeling fed up and afraid of the world. I was starting to give up on finding my ‘somewhere over the rainbow’ and I guess subconsciously, I thought a good way to write about it would be through Dorothy. A week later I heard about this part and I got offered the role. Such a weird coincidence.
And to be offered such a big part is a big deal for me. I’m glad that I can be a part of the changes we are seeing in the industry. Classic tales like this rarely have a black woman leading the show, so I’m proud to be a part of this. Gari has given me so much creative license to find her authentically, not just to play up to an ideal or a stereotype. For example, I chose to braid her hair in the way I used to when I went to school. For a long time, I never saw people of colour with their hair like mine on stage or on telly, and it made me feel invisible. I want my Dorothy to be real and if there is a young Black girl watching this I want her to be able to see herself in Dorothy.
This pandemic has been extremely hard for the arts but at the same time, it has invented unique ways in which audiences and creatives alike experience theatre. There will be audiences around the world watching simultaneously and families can book onto the same show and will be able to spot each other in the audience. It must be quite exciting to be a part of this kind of experience?
It’s really exciting, I have family all over the world, and I’m really excited for them to see my work, my first professional job, something that wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for COVID, a silver lining I suppose. We all live in different time zones, my sister lives in New York and I have an aunt in Alabama and a cousin in Philadelphia, but they are really excited to log on and watch me, even if it means being up at 9am to catch the matinee before work. At the same time, I can’t imagine how difficult it will be for some families who can’t see each other or those who are living in isolation. The whole Christmas vibe seems to have disappeared this year, it feels more gloomy than festive at the moment. So I hope that The Wonderful Wizard of Oz can bring a little bit of joy during a really tough time, and at the end of a very turbulent year.
How have you prepared for the production to take place in this way?
At first, I was quite anxious about the process as I had so much to learn and not much time to do it. We only have a three weeks rehearsal period, but after getting a few rehearsals under my belt I realised there is nothing to be anxious about. The more I enjoy being in the moment and trust that I’ve got what it takes, the more fun it becomes. I have some really lovely scenes with Dharmesh Patel, who plays the Scarecrow. It’s been a joy working with him. That is what Creation Theatre is all about.
What have been the best and most challenging parts in working on this production?
The best thing has to be the people, the actors are great. I just wish that I could have met them in person, it’s the only thing that is quite gutting about the process. The most challenging part is just the internet connection and the tech aspect, making sure my Zoom settings are right and getting to grips with a green screen so that my arm doesn’t suddenly disappear in the middle of the scene but I’m getting the hang of it.
What’s the best most thrilling part of being a theatre actress?
How unpredictable it is. I’m sure there will be many, many moments when we start running the show to live audiences when someone’s internet drops out, the mic mutes or the webcams fall over. And how we cope in those moments will be what’s most thrilling and satisfying about this kind of production.
What’s next for you?
That’s a difficult one. The industry is very new to me at the moment, and this is such a weird time to be a working professional actor, so who knows what the future has in store for me. In the meantime, I’ll be focusing on my writing. I’ve got a screenplay that I started writing in the middle of lockdown and haven’t quite got round to finishing yet. I’ve become really interested in the dynamics of interracial relationships, particularly at a time like this when people seem so divided. How do people who live in completely opposite worlds, who society has served and rewarded differently, how do those people exist in each other’s lives and even find love? And how far do we, the new generation, need to be held accountable and carry the burden of our ancestors? Maybe if we could answer those questions, we could be on the way to a more unifying 2021!
GETTING TO KNOW YOU
- A book you have to have in your collection? The Colour Purple. Hands down.
- A song/album that defines the soundtrack of your life to date? I wish I knew how it would feel to be free – Nina Simone. Watch her singing it on YouTube. Beautiful!
- A film/TV show that you have watched/can watch repeatedly? Modern Family and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air have been my lockdown go to’s. I recently watched the first episode of Small Axe and was blown away. No surprise: Steve McQueen is a great director and all the actors were amazing.
- The first stage production you saw and what it meant to you? I don’t remember the first stage production I saw, but one of the first stage productions I was ever in was The Wizard of Oz. I was too young to be allowed to act in the play, but I was in the chorus and I got to sing a solo in Somewhere Over The Rainbow. How funny is that?
- What has made you sad, mad, and glad this week? Glad: Mo Farah on I’m a celeb. Enough said. Sad: Realising how unhealthy I actually am by going on a sugar, gluten, and dairy-free diet. Giving away most of the food in my cupboard wasn’t fun but I have to say, I feel really good. And my skin is looking great too! Mad: I’m sure Donald Trump and Boris Johnson have done something!
Performances of The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz will be showing 19 Dec 2020 – 3 Jan 2021, 2pm and 7pm GMT (12noon and 4pm GMT, Christmas Eve). Find out more and book tickets here